In the previous issue of New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles, we published the first installment of our third annual Renaissance Awards in collaboration with the Preservation Resource Center, honoring those who have added vitality
and breathed new life into buildings while preserving their historic significance. The honorees were feted at a luncheon on Oct. 22, 2010, in the Grand Ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton.
Each of these individuals has persevered in the face of adversity and put great thought, effort and detail into their renovations. In a city that embraces the past and looks forward to a bright future, they are inspirations to all of us who have dealt with the trials and triumphs of restoring a damaged property and ultimately transformed it into something even better.
Sen. and Mrs. Joel Chaisson and Erika and Jude Olinger are presented in this final installment of the Renaissance Awards, and we applaud them for their tasteful reconstructions.
Sen. and Mrs. Joel Chaisson
What was the reason for the renovation? Joel: New Orleans is full of so many wonderful old buildings that have tremendous potential to be restored to their original glory. I’ve witnessed the results of some magnificent renovations and have always had the desire to do one or more myself. After Katrina, I came upon these two great buildings for sale that over the years had become home to a sheet metal operation. The potential for transforming these buildings into something special was obvious, so I contacted my partner Jay Roberts, who immediately agreed to do it. So we bought the property and began a two-year journey to renovate and change the use of the buildings back to what they were originally intended to be.
What was your goal for the renovation when you started? Joel: Our goal was to incorporate modern features into these historic properties to make them functional and livable but to do it in such a way that respected the original architecture and history of the buildings. To do that, we hired local architectural historian Jimmy Blanchard, who has done a terrific job of seamlessly blending the old with the new to create an exceptional environment in which to live; entertain; and provide an exceptional venue for my daughter, Martine, to operate her wonderful new art gallery.
What challenges did you encounter during the renovation? Joel: To do this type of renovation right, it takes a lot of time and effort. The greatest challenge we faced was finding the patience not to rush the project and to realize that these types of projects take substantially longer to finish than new construction.
What is your favorite part of the renovation/your favorite feature or area? Joel: I love everything about the project, but my two favorite features are the large common courtyard, which sits above the parking garage and has a building-wide balcony with a view of St. Charles Avenue, and the huge ballroom in one of the units, which has been restored to its original grandeur and is now a great venue for parties and special events.
Jude and Erika Olinger
What was the reason for the renovation? Erika: It’s funny how this worked out. We bought our house specifically because it did not need any renovation! But of course, the first thing that I noticed when we initially walked into the house was the annoyingly large fireplace in the middle of the front room that divided the front room of the shotgun.
I thought, “If we buy this house, some day that fireplace is going to come out!” It took six months of living in the house before we started doing any work, and we thought that we would start with something as simple as adding recessed lighting and crown molding. Well, the joke was on us as we ended up with what we called the “might-as-well syndrome,” a term that so appropriately defined how our renovation progressed.
What was your goal for the renovation when you started? Erika: The house had great bones, so the goal for our renovation was initially just to add lighting and give the house some larger walls to hang our art collection. As the owner of Cole Pratt Gallery, art is integral to the way my family lives. In order to light the house properly, we ended up having to tear out the fireplace, which left us with a 4-foot hole in both the floor and the ceiling. Then in order to have the larger walls we were looking for, we closed in one set of pocket doors and opened up doorways in other walls to redirect the floor plan of the house in a way that made sense for us. That included expanding a master bathroom and an overall redo of what was a perfectly livable house in the first place.
What challenges did you encounter during the renovation? Erika: This is where the “might-as-well syndrome” came in. Since we started out without a concrete plan of what we were going to renovate, our project kept growing.
We had no architect and only friends to use as a sounding board. We figured out that every previous owner of the house had done some renovation work by the clues left behind – either in the walls or the change in the wood of the floors. We also figured out that our one-time double shotgun was once a four-plex! As we lived in the house while the work was being done, living amidst the chaos was the hardest part for us. There was not one room that we had not put our fingerprints on, so anyone that has lived through a renovation will probably tell you the same thing: We will never live in a house that we are renovating again!
What is your favorite part of the renovation/your favorite feature or area? Erika: Other than it being complete, our favorite part of the renovation is coming home knowing that this is a house that we helped to design. It’s very satisfying knowing that through all of the work involved in making the house what it is, it’s truly ours.